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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Cross-disciplinary projects > Designing electrics/electronics for reduced environmental and economical impact
Graphic element Designing electrics/electronics for reduced environmental and economical impact

Proposed laws are forcing Europe's electronics and electrical equipment manufacturers to look for the first time at the lifetime costs of their products. An ambitious Growth-funded research project aims to help them gauge when and where they can best adapt designs and processes, so they can improve performance and reduce the economic burden of compliance.

Consumer electronics and electrical industries are at the cutting edge of change: manufacturers are constantly redesigning and placing new models on the market to stay ahead of rivals. Technological advances in computer technology, for example, render designs redundant after only a few months. This flux has made the sector problematic for traditional forms of recycling, such as the take-back of components and reuse of materials.

Tailormade model

Launched in January 2001, the three-year grEEEn project seeks to develop a tailormade model for the sector. By indicating the immediate costs of various actions, and the savings obtainable over a product's lifespan, this will help manufacturers to design environment-friendly electronic and electrical equipment. German multinational Siemens and Motorola's German subsidiary, two of the industrial partners in the project, estimate that companies could cut their costs by up to 5% using such a model.

European legislation in the pipeline on the reduction of waste from the electronic and electrical industries and restriction of hazardous wastes will, in any case, oblige manufacturers to take more account of the environmental implications of their products long after these have left the factory gates. The EU currently produces over eight million tonnes of electronic waste a year. Under the proposed laws, likely to come into effect at around the same time as the grEEEn project is completed in 2003, companies will be responsible for the costs of collecting and recycling wastes from their products, as well as for finding replacements for banned materials.

Traditionally, environmental cost management tools have been poorly developed in the electronic and electrical equipment sector, according to Kerstin Lichtenvort of co-ordinator Technical University, Berlin - which, with the University of Stuttgart, is one of two academic institutes involved in the project. "The first results from a survey of the industries have confirmed this weakness," she adds.
The intensive use and high power consumption of a lot of consumer electronics and computer equipment means that other cost analyses, mostly based on production or recycling costs, are not appropriate.

Standard tool for cost analysis

The grEEEn costing system should have several in-built advantages that will encourage manufacturers to adopt it as a standard tool in design departments.
It aims to offer an accurate database indicating where environment costs and savings can be located. This will be done by creating an information crossroads for companies' data, in which the anonymity of sensitive details would be preserved. All parts of the industry - equipment manufacturers, their suppliers, and recyclers - will be covered.

Lack of data on how much an environmentally friendly alteration could cost immediately, or down the line, is one of the major disincentives when companies think about changes in product design. Yet, over 80% of such costs are fixed at the design stage.

Case studies from various areas of the electronic and electrical industry will be carried out to fine-tune the cost-management tools. "We are still not 100% certain about the identity of the precise sectors to be selected. That should be clearer by the end of the year," says Lichtenvort. However, there is a clear desire that case studies should cover consumer electronics, the end-of-life phase of personal computers, semiconductor manufacture and the electronic parts of cars. The cost and environmental implications of replacing heavy metals and halogens is another top candidate.

An intended spin-off from these case studies - and the wider application of grEEEn's cost management model once it is fully up and running - should be a range of prototypes of environment-friendly and cost-effective designs that can serve as models or inspiration for other parts of the industry.

Here the dynamic nature of the electronics and electrical sectors should work in favour of the grEEEn project, allowing new equipment with a friendlier environmental profile to hit the market relatively quickly.

Tailormade model
Standard tool for cost analysis

Key data

Under the Innovative products, processes and organisation key action, the grEEEn project will explore ways to reduce the environmental impact of industrial products by analysing the life cycle costs of environment-friendly scenarios.


grEEEn - Cost management system for greening electrical and electronic equipment (G1RD-2000-00355)

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